Top 10 Legacies of the Middle Ages

I wrote this list as a companion to the “Top 10 Misconceptions about the Middle Ages” list. A few words on the criteria I used to put this list together. First of all, the boundaries of the Middle Ages are a matter of some debate. I define the period as being between the late 7th and the late 14th centuries, so I imagine there will be some comments protesting that. For what it’s worth, Classical Antiquity was slow to die, and the Renaissance was slow to develop, so naturally, there are some grey areas there. I also anticipate comments asking why I said nothing about Gothic architecture, or troubadours, etc. The reason for the omission is two-fold. One, for as long as civilization existed, there was always art, so having its own distinctive art forms does not, in and of itself, make the Middle Ages unique. Two, I did not want to include the REALLY obvious. Rather, in making the list, I was guided in part by Umberto Eco’s observation about his famous novel, “The Name of the Rose“, to the effect that readers identified certain ideas in the book as modern, while the were in fact medieval, and other ideas as medieval, while they were in fact modern. And so I asked myself: What things originating in the Middle Ages do we still see around us, every day, often taking them for granted and not realizing that they are medieval? Hence the list below.


Schools have existed since deep antiquity, but it was not until the Middle Ages that the University — an autonomous, self-governing community of students and scholars — emerged. Excellent schools of higher learning which served as precursors to universities (and later became true universities) emerged in the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world in the second half of the 9th century. The first two institutions to actually call themselves by the Latin term “universitas” were the University of Bologna and the University of Paris, founded within a short time of each other in the late 11th century. What set a university apart from institutions of higher learning that existed previously, was that a university existed not solely for the purpose of teaching, but also to facilitate research and debate; and that its curriculum covered both religious and secular subjects. Medieval European universities typically offered degrees in four disciplines: theology, law, medicine, and “letters” (i.e., liberal arts).


Although precursors to banking existed probably since before the invention of coinage, it was medieval (and mostly Italian) entrepreneurs who developed complex banking in the form that we would recognize today, as a system that can be readily distinguished from simple money-lending. Medieval bankers invented such things as bills of exchange (which eliminated the necessity of carrying actual coins over long distances), deposit banking (very similar to modern savings accounts) and bonds. What we know today as government bonds was probably invented in Florence in the 14th century with the establishment of 2 public funds — the general Monte fund and the dowry fund — whose purpose was to finance public debt after the economic cataclysms in the wake of One Hundred Years’ War. In sum, the medieval banking system introduced many of the elements that became the organizational backbone of modern finance.


Ancient and early medieval scripts, whether based on the Roman or Greek alphabet, were written in all-capital letters and in one continuous, unbroken stream of characters. The Carolingian Miniscule, developed sometime in the 9th century, was an innovative script that introduced lower-case letters and spaces between words, as well as uniform, rounded characters that were more legible. Although punctuation did not begin to be utilized extensively until the development of printing in the 15th century, the Carolingian Miniscule represented a giant leap towards making writing more “user-friendly”. Most types of scripts and fonts we have today, that utilize the Roman alphabet, are derived from the Carolingian Miniscule.

The Decameron

There are some examples of book illustration from the Roman times, but they are rare. It was in the Middle Ages that it became standard practice to supplement text with detailed illustrations. Unlike earlier, ancient illustrations, which (besides being very rare) were in the nature of diagrams and representations of artwork or architectural detail that is difficult to express verbally, medieval illustrations introduced pictorial representations of scenes that were perfectly clear from the text: e.g., a man walking, two people having a conversation, peasants harvesting grain, etc. Long before the invention of the printing press, artists decorated manuscripts with vivid, elaborate, and occasionally allegorical artwork that is often of astounding quality and detail, and can be just as, if not more, intriguing than the text itself. An historian will probably argue that illuminated manuscripts developed due to the problem of near-universal illiteracy in the early Middle Ages, to help people, whose reading skills were poor, to decipher the text and to enjoy it. Whatever the reasons, these manuscripts are the forerunners of today’s illustrated newspapers and magazines, textbooks, and even this website, which so heavily supplements text with images.


Although they surely have evolved with time and social change, most of our romantic notions are ultimately derived from the medieval tradition of Courtly Love, which combined erotic desire with Platonic attachment and spiritual admiration. This is not to say that today’s garden-variety romance is in the nature of medieval Courtly Love — after all, the latter was secret, practiced between members of the nobility, usually adulterous in nature and rarely consummated physically. But the core ideas of Courtly Love — those of love being exclusive and unique, something greater than sexual desire, and characterized by companionship and devotion — are certainly with us today, and quite different from the ancient notion of love, which was substantially limited to physical desire.


Again, as with romantic love, our notions of what it means to be chivalrous have evolved with time and social change. And as with romantic love, the core medieval ideas about chivalry shape our attitudes today in significant ways. Originating with the Moors of Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), the chivalric code of the Middle Ages dictated that a knight must not only be skillful on horseback and valiant in battle, but also just, courteous, well-mannered, compassionate and culturally sophisticated. This was a major departure from the ideal of the brute warrior of antiquity. It is the tradition of chivalry that shaped our notion of the Renaissance Man — although it would probably be more historically accurate to call that ideal the Medieval Man.


Abbas Ibn Firnas, an Andalucian polymath, invented the magnifying glass in the 9th century. Salvino D’Armate, a Florentine, invented wearable eyeglasses towards the end of the 13th century. The earliest spectacles differed from modern eyeglasses in that they did not have temple arms hooking behind the ears, and the lenses were only for hyperopia (farsightedness). Lenses for myopia (nearsightedness) were invented in the 15th century.


Various church records indicate that mechanical clocks using oscillation and falling weights were invented in the late 13th century. The earliest tower clocks usually had no faces or hands and announced canonical hours instead of astronomical hours. More sophisticated clocks had moving dials and showed time according to two or more different systems.

God The Geometer-1

Although there is some disagreement among historians about this, the compass was probably independently invented in China and in Europe in the 12th century. The dry compass, or “mariner’s compass” was developed and perfected in Europe, probably Italy, in the late 13th – early 14th centuries. Before the invention of the compass, ships sailed close to land and mariners navigated by observing natural landmarks and the position of celestial bodies. This made sea travel long and inefficient, dangerous (when a ship had to sail within sight of enemy territory or a pirate base), and seasonal (since the sky was frequently overcast in the fall and winter). The compass enabled ships to sail into the open sea and to determine their direction even when celestial bodies could not be observed. This navigation device has had a lasting impact on civilization and was used for over 800 years before finally being supplanted by GPS.

Magna Carta-1

The significance of the Magna Carta has sometimes been a bit overstated. What cannot be denied, however, is that it codified two revolutionary principles: (1) the king must govern with consent; and (2) the king must govern within the law. These twin principles laid the foundation of modern Western liberal democracy, which combines elements of monarchy, oligarchy, and ancient-style participatory democracy in a mechanism utilizing the advantages of each to the maximum.


Ancient cities, even great ancient cities, such as Rome, were important primarily as fortified seats of power. It was in the Middle Ages, however, that the notion of a city evolved into something more than fortified physical space — into an idea and a vision; large, socially complex societies based primarily on economic relationships rather than kinship. It was in the Middle Ages that big cities became identified as places of freedom, opportunity, anonymity, renewal and self-invention — the aura that cities still possess today.

Read more:

10 Great Non-European Achievers

A while ago, a list titled 10 Great Achievements of the Human Mind was published on listverse. I really enjoyed the list, and I thought the author did an exceptional job on it. The list presented “ten works of superlative genius, in no particular order.” Despite this qualifier, some people complained about the order of the list and commented that the list was too Eurocentric. In response, a challenge was issued several times to present Ten Great Achievements of the non-European mind. I would hardly call myself an expert, and I approach this subject through a Eurocentric lens, but I am intrigued by this challenge. My list is different in that I am concentrating on the areas of medicine, science and mathematics and largely ignoring literature, music and art. In addition, I think it is important to note that a lot of the contributions of non-Europeans have not been attributed to a specific individual but, nevertheless, reflect great achievements of the human mind. Also, while I understand the pride that people have in the accomplishments of their geographical and cultural forebears, this pride should never serve to denigrate a perceived lack of achievement in other groups. We are all human, and we can all take pride in these historical accomplishments. Finally, there are plenty of other great non-Europeans that I did not include – perhaps that can be for another few lists. Without further ado, I present ten non-European men of superlative genius, in no particular order.


Imhotep, an Egyptian polymath, is the first physician, architect and engineer whose name is known to history. He was high priest of Ra and chancellor to the Pharoah Djoser of the Third Dynasty. So great was his legacy that, despite being a commoner, he was granted divinity after his death. Imhotep was revered as a poet and fifteen hundred years after his death a song praised his acuity with language: “I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordedef, with whose discourses men speak so much.” As an architect and engineer, he designed the 62 metre tall step pyramid for Djoser and is credited with the first known use of columns. Below his pyramid his name and title are given as “seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt, first one under the king, administrator of the Great Mansion, prince, chief of seers.” As a physician, a writing attributed to him was devoid of supernatural reasoning and made remarkable descriptions of various ailments and cures along with anatomical descriptions.

Zhang Heng

A native of central China, Zhang Heng was an artist, poet, mathematician, geographer, astronomer, and statesman of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 -220 AD). As an artist, he was considered among the four greatest of his time and his poetry was acclaimed by contemporaries and later commentators. Zhang Heng invented an early but efficient seismograph which could detect the direction of an earthquake up to 500 km (310 miles) away. In addition, he improved the accuracy of the Chinese water clock and invented both an odometer and a mechanical chariot that always pointed south. Zhang also improved the armillary sphere, adding the horizon and meridian rings. Not satisfied with a static three-dimensional model of the heavens, Zhang used complex gears and water power to make the globe rotate in order to display the changing positions of the heavens by season. He added a rotating pillar that portrayed the waxing and the waning of the moon. As an astronomer, he mapped and catalogued a total of 2,500 stars, more than twice as many as Ptolemy (83 – 161 AD). He believed in a geocentric model of the universe and discussed the spherical shape of the moon, the nature of solar and lunar eclipses, and the waxing and waning of the moon. His epitaph, written by his friend Cui Ziyu read, in part: “The excellence of his talent and the splendor of his art were one with those of the gods.”


Sushruta, an ancient Indian physician, is considered by many to be the father of surgery. The work attributed to him and later followers bears his name, the Sushruta Samhita. Sushruta demonstrated knowledge of the circulation of blood and lymph and of the arteries. Sushruta connected obesity with heart disorders and diabetes, recommending physical activity in order to cure it. He conducted surgery for curing kidney stones and accurately described and recommended treatments for angina pectoris, hypertension, and leprosy. Sushruta laid the foundation for plastic surgery and related various methods for covering physical defects using skin grafts and other methods. He also described methods for labioplasty (the reduction in size of the labial hood) and rhinoplasty (nose surgery). The Sushruta Samhita travelled from the Arab world and reached Italy by the sixteenth century. The first major rhinoplasty in the western world was completed by Joseph Constantine Carpue in 1815, after having studied Indian methods for twenty years.


Abu Al-Qasim, better known to the West as Abulcasis, was an Arabic surgeon, physician, and scientist from Spain. Considered by many to be the father of modern surgery, his medical text, Kitab Al Tasrif, profoundly influenced Islamic and European surgical procedure. He gave the earliest recorded description of hemophilia and described the Kocher method for treating dislocated shoulders long before it was described by its nineteenth century namesake. He specialized in cauterization and amputation and invented or improved over two hundred surgical instruments. His inventions included surgical needles and forceps as well as devices for the inspection of the ear, the inspection of the urethra’s interior, and the removal of foreign bodies from the throat. His use of catgut for internal stitching is still used today. Al-Qasim also described how to ligature blood vessels during surgery and how to prepare medication by sublimation and distillation. He performed and described operations in the areas of Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, Obstetrics, Urology, and Orthopaedics. He stressed a positive relationships between doctors and patients and careful observation and diagnosis of illnesses. His Kitab Al Tasrif was highly influential in the Islamic world and was the definitive medical text for Western surgeons for nearly five hundred years.

Ex104 06D

Ibn Khaldun was a brilliant North African polymath of Arab descent who was born Tunis but travelled extensively throughout North Africa. He was a statesman, philosopher, Islamic theologian and jurist, historian, astronomer, mathematician, economist, poet, and social scientist and is widely considered to be the father of historiography, cultural history, demography, philosophy of history, and sociology. Although his greatest interest was in history, his contributions in other areas were extensive. His writings anticipated later sociology and economics. Arnold J. Toynbee, the British historian, called Ibn Khaldun’s most famous work, the Muqadimmah, “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place.” Toynbee also stated that Ibn Khaldun “appears to have been inspired by no predecessors, and to have found no kindred souls among his contemporaries, and to have no answering spark or inspiration in any successors.”

Shen Kuo An Allround Scholar234B7179Ba638592C530

Active during the Song dynasty (960-1127 AD), Shen Kuo was a brilliant Chinese scientist, mathematician, cartographer, engineer, and statesman. As a mathematician, he conceived of techniques that paved the way for high-order arithmetic progressions and spherical trigonometry. Shen hypothesized the concept of gradual climate change through his observations of fossilized bamboo in northern China. He also hypothesized that land formations were the result of geomorphology based upon his observations of inland marine fossils, soil erosion, and silt buildup. He improved the designs of various astronomical tools including the spherical astrolabe and the triangular blade of the sundial. Shen fixed the position of the pole star and corrected lunar and solar errors. He was the first to discover true north through his experiments with the magnetic compass. He worked extensively with optics, discussing the formation of rainbows by refraction, focal points, concave inversion, and describing the geometric and quantitive properties of the pinhole camera. In the field of archaeology, Shen recommended the use of metallurgy, geometry and optics to study the artifacts of the ancients. He also used the sight from an ancient crossbow he had uncovered to calculate the height of a distant mountain, using it as the survey device now known as Jacob’s staff. Despite his scientific interest, he never developed a scientific method and had a deep interest in the occult and the supernatural.


Ibn Rushd, better known to the west as Averroes, was an Arabic polymath born and educated in Cordova, Spain and active in both Spain and Morocco. He was an Islamic theologian, jurist and philosopher with interests in geography, medicine, mathematics and physics. As a physician, Ibn Rushd wrote extensively on Arabic medicine. He supported dissection, suggested the existence of Parkinson’s disease, and was the first to identify the retina as a photoreceptor. Along with the Byzantine copies of Aristotle’s writings, Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle were translated into Latin and allowed for the re-emergence of Aristotle’s thought in Western Europe. His writings influenced Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas and were highly influential in Europe for nearly four centuries. Ibn Rushd’s argument for the separation of science and philosophy from theology helped pave the way for secularism. Although he was not the first Arab philosopher to do so, he often wrote that existence precedes essence, a central claim later to be found in existentialism. Ibn Rushd also argued that men and women were equal, claiming that women and men possessed equal abilities to excel in war and in peace and citing examples of female warriors and generals throughout history. His influence was overwhelming in shaping Western European philosophy and theology as well as Arabic Islamic thought.


Aryabata I was an early Indian Mathematician and Astronomer who worked in the city of Kusumapura in north central India. His great works were Aryabhitiya (c. 499) and the Aryabhatasiddhanta, a text which is now only preserved in the works of commentators. His works include the first recorded usage of decimal place value and algebra. His independent calculation of the value pi was correct to eight places. He defined sine and cosine and utilized fractions, square and cube roots, diophantine and quadratic equations. Aryhabata contended, contrary to Vedic tradition, that the earth was round and rotated daily. In fact, many commentators later altered his text in order to cover up what they viewed as an error – the axial rotation of the earth. Some have argued that he supported a heliocentric view of the solar system, but others question how this can be extrapolated from his writings. Aryabata produced a highly accurate calendar and initiated the practice of beginning each day counting from midnight. His calculation of the circumference of the earth was only off by about 110 kilometres (67 miles) while his calculation of the length of a year was only off by 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Aryabhata accurately described why eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes happen. India’s first satellite, launched in 1975, was named Aryabhata in his honour.


Abu Rayhan Biruni was a Persian mathematician, theologian, philosopher, astronomer, geographer and historian who was born near the Aral Sea in Khwarazm. He was fluent in Persian, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew Khwarezmian and Syriac and had knowledge of Hindi and Latin. While he wrote 146 books largely on astronomy, astrology, geography and mathematics, only 22 of these works have survived. As an astronomer, he was critical of astrology because of its reliance on supposition rather than empirical evidence. His study of India exposed him to Indian theories of axial rotation and heliocentricity. Biruni was meticulous in his observations and gathering of empirical data. He refused to dismiss data that contradicted his theories out of his concern for accuracy. After reading the work of the Indian astronomer and mathematician, Brahmagupta (598 – 665 AD), Biruni observed and confirmed the attraction of all things towards the centre of the Earth. He also correctly contended that the distance between the earth and the sun was greater than Ptolemy’s estimate. Biruni theorized on the elliptical orbits of the planets. Biruni is the father of geodesy, the three dimensional measurement of the earth. His measurement of the radius of the Earth was only off by 16.8 km (10.4 miles) and he created highly accurate maps that correctly represented the distance between cities. He is among the earliest proponents of the experimental scientific method and used it in mineralogy to carefully measure and catalogue various stones and metals. The weights he gave for the minerals are correct to three decimal places. Biruni has been called the father of anthropology and objectively observed and recorded the culture and religion of various groups by immersing himself in their language and texts. He stands among the greatest scholars that the world has ever produced.


Ibn Sina, better known to the West as Avicenna, was a Persian polymath renowned for his philosophy and medical expertise. He had memorized the Koran by the age of ten, mastered what was known of physics, metaphysics, logic, and mathematics by sixteen, and completed his study of medicine by the age of 21. His Canon of Medicine was a 14 volume medical encyclopedia which was used throughout Europe and the Islamic World until the eighteenth century. His other famous work, the Book of Healing, was an encyclopedia of over 20 volumes on science and philosophy. His medical writing was heavily influenced by Hippocrates, Galen, and Sushruta, and had a great impact on learning in Western Europe. He introduced experimental medicine, risk factor analysis, quarantines, systematic experimentation in the study of physiology, and the idea of syndromes. He observed and described contagious and sexually transmitted diseases, pioneered in the area of neuropsychiatry, theorized on the existence of micro-organisms, and laid the pharmacological foundations for testing the effectiveness of drugs. Ibn Sina was the first to define the physical principle of momentum and define simple machines and mechanisms. As a philosopher, he wrote extensively on logic, ethics, and metaphysics and successfully merged Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. His philosophy was leading school in Islam by the twelfth century, and philosophical works heavily influenced William of Auvergne, St Albertus Magnus, St Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics. Ivn Sina is a national icon in Iran and has been recognized in both the East and the West as a towering figure in history.

Read more:

10 Controversial Alternative Views Of Historical Events

It’s fun to look at famous historical events from another angle; you never know what kind of new information and insights you can get. Some might be undoubtedly crazy and some might be remotely possible, if not actually true. Let’s go through some famous happenings throughout history—only this time, we’ll be looking at them from another viewpoint.

10 The Ancient Romans Were Actually Prudes

Popular belief says the ancient Romans indulged in all manner of sexual depravities, but they were one of the most prudish societies ever. It was actually very offensive for couples to engage in open displays of affection during the time of the Roman Republic—one senator even ended up being driven out of the Senate after he kissed his wife in public.

Sex during the day was frowned upon; sex was reserved for the night. During the act, no light from candles or lamps was allowed (it was considered bad taste), and the woman could not get fully naked (doing so was considered immoral). In fact, the ancient Romans only became more sexually adventurous after they assimilated Greek culture.

How about the infamous Roman orgies? According to Dr. Alastair Blanshard, a researcher at the University of Sydney, the so-called Roman orgy was nothing more than a religious ritual to honor Dionysus, the god of merrymaking. Public sex did happen—a record two times in all the known orgies that took place in ancient Rome. While the Roman festivals were indeed extravagant, Blanshard found that innocent-sounding Greek symposiums saw more violent scuffles and incidents of debauchery.

So whose fault was it for this grossly exaggerated portrayal of Roman sexuality? According to Blanshard, aside from modern profligates who used the myth to excuse their own lifestyle, Christianity was largely responsible. Early Christian writers, in promoting their religion, often wrongly used Roman satirical pieces as their sources when they wrote of the Roman way of life. For them, attacking the supposedly debauched Roman lifestyle became the perfect way to attract new recruits into their growing religion.

9 We Were Better Off As Hunter-Gatherers


Despite the notion that they led bleak lives before discovering farming, our ancestors actually prospered just by hunting and gathering. They had relatively short hours of work, healthier diets and less chronic illness.

For evidence, scientists looked at the skeletal remains of ancient hunter-gatherers in Greece and Turkey. A height deficit occurred after the species shifted to farming. Grains and domesticated livestock had a huge hand in introducing new disease. Evidence also suggests that humans shrank drastically after the shift to agriculture.

Agriculture introduced social inequality. For the first time, a farmer with good land could hire workers, get rich, and expand his territory, until he eventually became a ruler. The status of women also spiraled downward in agricultural societies. Whereas they once worked together with men in hunting and gathering food, farming relegated women to the domestic role of producing children and maintaining the home.

8 China Improved Tibet


According to the Chinese, their “liberation” of Tibet in 1950 brought the Tibetans better infrastructure, education, and medical care. Ignoring the bloody protests and human rights issues, the Tibetans are now better off than they were before the Chinese came along.

While this may sound like an awful attempt at propaganda, some independent historians contend that pre-Chinese Tibet, far from being a Shangri-La, indeed looked more like medieval Europe. The peasant population toiled in fields controlled by monks and aristocratic families.

At the top of the pyramid were the lamas. Contrary to their reputation as peaceful religious leaders, these men historically ruled the country in an iron-fisted manner for centuries. They kept thousands of slaves and owned vast amounts of land. Oppressive rules and brutal punishments often marked their reign; one Dalai Lama even ordered that serfs who attempted escape should have their hands chopped off and their eyes gouged out.

Tibet’s past isolationism has so far made it difficult for historians to verify its real history. For now, debates are still ongoing as to whether Tibet was heaven on earth or a living hell.

7 The Soviet Union Instigated The Six-Day War


We have previously discussed how the Soviet Union almost invaded Israel during the Six-Day War. We also briefly mentioned that the war was just one big ruse by the Soviets to destroy Israel’s nuclear capability. According to historians Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, the Soviets had their Arab allies provoke the Israelis into attacking them first. The war would be the perfect smokescreen for the Soviets to send in their newest jet—the Mig-25 Foxbat—to destroy Israel’s nuclear stockpile in Dimona. Only Israel’s swift and overwhelming victories over the Arabs ended Soviet hopes of destroying Israel’s nukes.

While the whole story may be too incredible to believe, the Soviets really did mobilize their forces for war against Israel. A retired Soviet navy officer verified that that he and his men had been ordered to occupy Israeli harbors upon the commencement of hostilities. A Russian air force colonel also allegedly confirmed that Mig-25 Foxbats conducted surveillance missions on Israel’s suspected nuclear facilities in Dimona.

6 The US Provoked Japan Into War

We have all heard this question a million times: Did the US have advance knowledge of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor? Similarly, why on earth would Japan attack the US—an economic and military giant that even some Japanese leaders acknowledged would inevitably crush them?

If some sources are to be believed, President Roosevelt’s administration started it all. FDR, to secure public favor for a war against Germany, imposed severe embargos and sanctions that crippled Japan’s economy, leaving the Japanese no choice but to attack the US. What makes this conspiracy plausible is the existence of the McCollum memo.

The memo, written in 1940 by naval intelligence officer Arthur McCollum, recommended eight ways for the US to provoke Japan into war. While no compelling evidence exists that the memo ever reached FDR, McCollum’s two superiors who reviewed the memo did serve as FDR’s close aides.

5 Hitler Feared The French And Admired The British


Hitler was no peacenik, but he actually exhibited a very healthy fear of the Anglo-French alliance. In fact, during the re-occupation of the Rhine, Hitler famously ordered his generals to sound a retreat at the faintest sign of French resistance. Hitler also admired the British for their ability to maintain such a large empire. He made repeated peace overtures to the British, even in the course of the war.

The Fuhrer showed genuine surprise at the two nations’ declaration of war after Germany invaded Poland. After the declaration, he reportedly reproached his foreign minister and asked, “What now?” Alas, the Allies were too slow to move. Hitler got over his initial shock and escalated his efforts.

4 South Korean Provocations Sparked The Korean War

History teachers say that the Korean War began due to the North’s unprovoked invasion of the South. However, they conveniently forget to mention the that South Korea had an equal role in building up the conflict.

In the years after World War II, tensions between the two Koreas simmered to an all-time high, with the North and South responsible for an equal number of incidents. South Korean President Syngman Rhee (who was as insanely dictatorial as his northern counterpart) wanted to unify the two Koreas, by force if need be. His government routinely issued threats of war, and its armed forces regularly raided North Korean territory.

It took Soviet dictator Stalin to calm down North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung—a move that provided only temporary relief.

3 The Atomic Bombings Were Unnecessary

We’ve covered how a World War II plan to invade Japan almost went into effect—and would have resulted in the deaths of millions of Americans and Japanese. Only the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stopped even greater bloodshed. But were they really necessary?

A month before Germany surrendered, Japan was already sending a series of secret messages to the Allies signifying its intent to surrender, with the condition that the Emperor remain untouched. The Allies rejected the condition, and the US went ahead and dropped the bomb. In a bitter act of irony, they did end up letting the Emperor keep his place among the Japanese when the war ended.

So why the need for the atomic bomb? For revisionists, the US wanted to instill fear in the Soviets and contain the growth of communism. If this was indeed the case, the move turned out counterproductive. It inspired the Soviets to fast-track their own atomic program. They successfully detonated their own bomb just four years after the end of the war.

2 The Mongols Preferred Surrenders To Massacres


People assume the Mongols were bloodthirsty barbarians who killed millions of people during their rule. Though the Mongols did kill lots of people, reports of the death tolls were often greatly exaggerated by those who feared them. In one account, the Mongols supposedly massacred two million people in Herat, a small city located today in Afghanistan. At the time, the entire population of the region’s larger capital of Samarkand actually numbered just 200,000.

These inflated body counts suited the Mongols just fine. As their empire expanded, they began to use propaganda to supplement their overstretched numbers. They encouraged accounts of their atrocities. More often than not, the plan worked like a charm. It let the Mongols frequently enter cities with zero resistance—saving lives as a result.

1 The British Were Never Going To Win The Revolutionary War

Hollywood portrayals of the American Revolution depict the colonials as plucky underdogs going against a British powerhouse, but the roles couldn’t have been more reversed. In reality, it was the British who were heavily outnumbered and outgunned.

At the start of war, the British army was already undermanned and overextended in protecting the vast empire’s other possessions. Against a force of less than 40,000 British soldiers stood 250,000–375,000 colonials who supported the Revolution. Additionally, the British had their hands full against a combined French-Spanish-Dutch alliance. The alliance provided the colonials not only with funds and arms but a naval presence against the vaunted royal fleet.

Though the British were indeed a force to be reckoned with, they had to “win it all” to win the war. On the other hand, all Washington had to do was survive, keep fighting, and convince the King and Parliament that the war was ultimately futile.

Read more:

Yet Another 20 Fascinating Historical Facts

For some reason we seem to have developed a special “top 20″ format for our historical oddities lists. Including this list, we now have four lists of 20 oddities of history. The oddities lists are always popular and are a pleasure to research and put together so I felt bound to do another. For those who are especially fond of these types of lists, here are the previous three:

20 Historical Oddities You Probably Don’t Know
Another 20 Historical Oddities You Don’t Know
20 More Interesting Historical Oddities

237366881 9E49620A7B

1. The Romans used to use asbestos in their cloths for daily use – such as dish-towels, napkins, and table cloths. Pliny the Elder (a Roman naturalist) said that they could be cleaned whiter than normal cloth by simply throwing them in the fire. He also noted that the slaves who wove the mineral for cloth often suffered from lung disorders.

2. In Ancient Egypt, the heart was considered to be the seat of intelligence – not the brain. Egyptians thought the brain was just a stuffing for the head. For this reason they scraped it out of the head during embalming and discarded it, while treating the heart with special care.

3. During the plague in the Middle Ages, some doctors wore a primitive form of biohazard suit called “plague suits” (pictured above). The mask included red glass eyepieces, which were thought to make the wearer impervious to evil. The beak of the mask was often filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasmas or “bad air” which was also thought to carry the plague.

4. During the last 3,500 years, it is estimated that the world has had a grand total of 230 years in which no wars took place. That is enough to make one wonder whether there is any benefit at all to the “peace movement”.

5. In urban circles of Western Europe and the Americas, beards were out of fashion after the early 17th century; to such an extent that, in 1698, Peter the Great of Russia ordered men to shave off their beards, and in 1705 levied a tax on beards in order to bring Russian society more in line with contemporary Western Europe.

397Px-Pintoricchio 014

6. The best selling book of the 15th century was an erotic book called The Tale of the Two Lovers – it is even still read today. The author of this book was none other than Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini – otherwise known as Pope Pius II (pictured above) who reigned from 1458 – 1464.

7. In Ancient Egypt, cats were considered sacred. When a family pet cat died, the entire family would shave off their eyebrows and remain in mourning until they had grown back.

8. The model for Uncle Sam on the famous 1917 post “I want you” is the face of the painter, James Montgomery Flagg. For effect he aged his own portrait and added the goatee beard. Flagg used his own picture in order to avoid the need to find a model.

9. There is no such thing as the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1862, Lincoln signed into law a resolution creating a “Medal of Honor” which is the official and only title for what most people think is the “Congressional Medal”.

10. In 200 BC, when the Greek city of Sparta was at the height of its power there were 20 slaves for every citizen. Imagine how tidy their houses must have been!


11. Andorra declared war on Imperial Germany during World War I, but did not actually take part in the fighting. It remained in an official state of belligerency until 1957 as it was not included in the Versailles Peace Treaty.

12. Only two people signed the Declaration independence on 4 July 1776 – John Hancock and Charles Thomson. The majority of the other members of Congress signed on 2 August, although the final signature wasn’t added for another five years.

13. As a restorative medicine in ancient Rome, people would drink a mixture of wine and the dung of wild boars.

14. During the Western Schism (1378 to 1417), three men simultaneously claimed to be the legitimate Pope. When the cardinals didn’t like the Pope they originally elected, they elected a second (invalidly). This caused great troubles in the Church which lead to the election of a third Pope by the council of Pisa (also invalidly). Thus there were three claimants to the throne: Pope Gregory XII, Antipope Benedict XIII, and Antipope John XXIII. It was finally ended when the original election was considered the only valid one of the lot.

15. Sir William Paterson (pictured above), founder of the Bank of England, is suspected to have been a pirate in his years before founding the bank.


16. In 1904, tea bags were invented accidentally. The inventor, Thomas Sullivan (a tea merchant) decided that it was cheaper to send small samples to prospective customers in silk bags – rather than boxes. The recipients mistakenly believed they were meant to be dunked and soon Sullivan was inundated with orders for his “tea bags”.

17. The oldest parachute design appears in an anonymous manuscript from 1470s Renaissance Italy (over 400 years before the airplane), showing a free-hanging man clutching a cross bar frame attached to a conical canopy. As a safety measure, four straps run from the ends of the rods to a waist belt.

18. In the late 1700s, a tobacco enema was used to infuse tobacco smoke into a patient’s rectum for various medical purposes, primarily the resuscitation of drowning victims. A rectal tube inserted into the anus was connected to a fumigator and bellows that forced the smoke towards the rectum (machine pictured above).

19. Income tax, along with many other taxes imposed during the Civil War, was repealed after 1865 because the government simply had no need for the extra revenue. The majority of federal income came from taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which were hot commodities at war’s end.

20. In Rome, there were people who specialized in armpit plucking. Somewhere around 1 AD, Roman aristocrats interested in fashion, removed all of their body hair. Requirements for the profession were tweezers, a strong arm and the ability to deal with their customer’s pain.

Read more:

Top 15 Most Evil Nazis

The Third Reich, 1933-1945, was arguably the most heinous regime in history. Comprised of some equally malevolent characters, this administration was responsible for initiating the biggest and most costly war mankind has ever known, and perpetrated one of the worlds biggest acts of genocide, in what is now referred to as the Holocaust. This list could have been bigger but I settled on these 15 (mostly) NSDAP members.

Hermann Goring 1

A WW1 veteran, the Reichsmarschall was head of the luftwaffe, and the founder of the gestapo. After the fall of France he stole millions of pounds worth of art from Jews, and amassed a personal fortune. Goering took part in the beer hall putsch of 1923 and was wounded in the groin. Subsequently, taking morphine for pain relief, he became addicted to the drug for the rest of his life. In 1940, the Marshal ordered the bombing of the civilian population of Britain (the Blitz) and was involved in planning the holocaust. Goering was the highest ranking defendant during the Nuremberg Trials. Sentenced to hang, he committed suicide in his cell the night before his execution by cyanide ingestion.


Known as The “Bitch of Buchenwald” because of her sadistic cruelty towards prisoners, Ilse Koch was married to another wicked Nazi SS, Karl Otto Koch, but outshone him in the depraved, inhumane, disregard for life which was her trademark. She used her sexual prowess by wandering around the camps naked, with a whip, and if any man so much as glanced at her she would have them shot on the spot. The most infamous accusation against Ilse Koch was that she had selected inmates with interesting tattoos to be killed, so that their skins could be made into lampshades for her home (though, unfortunately, no evidence of these lampshades has been found). After the war she was arrested and spent time in prison on different charges, eventually hanging herself in her cell in 1967, apparently consumed by guilt.


Dr. Paul Josef Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda, and a vehement antisemite. Goebbels speeches of hatred against Jews arguably initiated the final solution, and no doubt helped sway public opinion to the detriment of the Jewish people. A sufferer of polio, Goebbels had a club foot, but this did not effect his standing as the second best orator in The Reich. He coined the phrase “Total War”, and was instrumental in convincing the nation to fight long after the war was effectively lost. At the end of the war, a devoted Goebbels stayed in Berlin with Hitler and killed himself, along with his wife Magda and their six young children.

Stangl Ca45

Born in Austria, Stangl was a commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps. In 1940, through a direct order from Heinrich Himmler, Stangl became superintendent of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at the Euthanasia Institute at Schloss Hartheim where mentally and physically disabled people were sent to be killed. Stangl accepted, and grew accustomed to the killing of Jews , perceiving prisoners not as humans but merely as “cargo”. He is quoted as saying, “I remember standing there, next to the pits full of black-blue corpses…. somebody said ‘What shall we do with rotting garbage?’ that started me thinking of them as cargo. Stangl escaped Germany after the war and was eventually arrested in Brazil, in 1967. He was tried for the deaths of around 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings, but argued: “My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty”. He died of heart failure in 1971, while serving a life sentence.

Paul Blobel

During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he commanded Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, that was active in Ukraine. Following Wehrmacht troops into Ukraine, the Einsatzgruppen would be responsible for liquidating political and racial undesirables. Blobel was primarily responsible for the Babi Yar massacre at Kiev. Up to 59,018 executions are attributable to Blobel, though during testimony he was alleged to have killed 10,000-15,000. He was later sentenced to death by the U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunal in the Einsatzgruppen Trial. He was hanged at Landsberg Prison on June 8, 1951.

Kramer Josef Ss Hauptsturmf Hrer

Kramer was the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dubbed “The Beast of Belsen” by camp inmates; he was a notorious Nazi war criminal, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Kramer adopted his own draconian policies at Auschwitz and Belsen and, along with Irma Grese, he terrorized his prisoners without remorse. After the war he was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hameln prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Whilst on trial he stated his lack of feelings as he was “just following orders”.


Austrian born Kaltenbrunner was chief of security in the Reich where he replaced Reinhard Heydrich. He was president of Interpol from 1943 to 1945, and was there to destroy the enemies within the Reich. Kaltenbrunner was a physically imposing man with scars on his cheeks, which made him look like the tyrant he really was. Kaltenbrunner was one of the main perpetrators of the holocaust and he was hanged after the Nuremberg trials on 16th October 1946. He was the highest ranked SS man to be hanged.

Friedrich Jeckeln In Soviet Custody

Jeckeln led one of the largest collections of Einsatzgruppen, and was personally responsible for ordering the deaths of over 100,000 Jews, Slavs, Roma, and other “undesirables” of the Third Reich, in the occupied Soviet Union during World War II. Jeckeln developed his own methods to kill large numbers of people, which became known as the “Jeckeln System” during the Rumbula, Babi Yar, and Kamianets-Podilskyi Massacres. After the war he was tried and hanged by the Russian,s in Riga on February 3, 1946.

Oskar Dirlewanger

WW1 veteran Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger led the infamous SS Dirlewanger Brigade, a penal battalion comprised of the sickest most vicious criminals in the Riech. Dirlwanger raped two 13 year old girls on separate occasions in the 1930s, and lost his Dr. title after being imprisoned, only to have it reinstated after his bravery Fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He volunteered for the SS at the start of WW2, and was given his own battalion due to his excellent soldiery, Dirlewanger’s unit was employed in operations against partisans in the occupied Soviet Union, but he and his soldiers are widely believed to have tortured, raped and murdered civilians (including children) and he allegedly fed female hostages strychnine in order to entertain his soldiers whilst they died in agony. Dirlewanger was captured by the French in a hospital after being injured at the front as he had always led his soldiers into battle. The French handed him over to the Polish, who locked him up and beat and tortured him over the next few days. He died from injuries inflicted by the Polish guards around June 5, 1945.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0188, Odilo Globocnik

Odilo Globocnik was a prominent Austrian Nazi, and later an SS leader. He was one of the men most responsible for the murder of millions of people during the Holocaust. Globocnik was responsible for liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto, which contained about 500,000 Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after New York. He is also known for liquidating the Bialystok Ghetto, which stood out for its strong resistance to German occupation and resettling a large quantity of Poles under the premise of ethnic cleansing. He was in charge of the implementation and supervision of the Lublin reservation, to which 95,000 Jews were deported, with its adjacent network of forced labour camps in the Lublin district. He was also in charge of over 45,000 Jewish laborers. On May 21st, Shortly after capture, Globocnik committed suicide by means of a cyanide capsule hidden in his mouth.

Adolf Eichmann

Eichmann was the organizational talent that orchestrated the mass deportation of Jews from their countries into waiting ghettos and extermination camps. A prodigy of Heydrich, he is sometimes referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust”. He learned Hebrew and studied all things Jewish in order to manipulate Jews, through his power of coercion, to leave their occupied territories and possessions in favor of a better life in the ghettos. At the end of the war he was doing the same to Hungarian Jews and, if it wasn’t for the intervention of Raoul Wallenberg, the number of victims of the holocaust would have been much higher. He fled Germany at the end of the war via a ratline to south America, and was captured by the Mossad in Argentina. He was extradited to Israel and executed by hanging in 1962, after a highly publicized trial. Eichmanns death was, and is, the only civil execution ever carried out in Israel.


Mengele initially gained notoriety for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, but is far more infamous for performing grisly human experiments on camp inmates, for which Mengele was called the “Angel of Death”. His crimes were evil and of many. When it was reported that one hospital block was infested with lice, Mengele gassed every single one of the 750 women assigned to it. Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research on heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. He was particularly interested in identical twins. Mengele’s experiments included attempts to take one twin’s eyeballs and attach them to the back of the other twin’s head, changing eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, various amputations of limbs, and other brutal surgeries. He survived the war, and after a period living incognito in Germany, he fled to South America, where he evaded capture for the rest of his life, despite being hunted as a Nazi war criminal.


Heydrich was appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. In August 1940, he was appointed and served as President of Interpol. Heydrich chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which discussed plans for the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German occupied territory, thus being the mastermind of the holocaust. He was attacked by British trained Czech agents on 27 May, 1942, sent to assassinate him in Prague. He died slightly over a week later from complications arising from his injuries. The foundations of genocide were laid by Heydrich and carried out in Operation Reinhard in his name.

Adolf Hitler-1

Hitler would be some people’s choice to be number one but not mine. Adolf Hitler went from being a lance corporal in the German army, to chancellor of Germany in 15 years. The holocaust may have been his subordinates doing, but he knew about it, which, amazingly, has only been fairly recently proven. Adolf Hitler had a major role in initiating the bloodiest conflict ever, which still has a massive bearing on the world to this day. His megalomania saw large parts of Europe devastated in his lifetime and forced into communism after the war.


Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the holocaust and considered to be the biggest mass murderer ever, by some (although it’s really Josef Stalin). The holocaust would not have happened if not for this man. He tried to breed a master race of Nordic appearance, the Aryan race. His plans for racial purity were ended by Hitler’s vanity in making rash military decisions rather than letting his generals make them, thus ending the war prematurely. Himmler was captured after the war. He unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the west, and was genuinely shocked to be treated as a criminal upon capture. He committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule he had bit upon.

Read more:

10 Reasons 19th Century Paris Was As Miserable As Les Mis

By now you’ve probably either seen the movie, watched the play or read the book Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s classic tale of life in nineteenth century Paris. But have you ever wondered if life in Paris at that time really was as miserable as the movie depicts? Here are ten reasons why it was even worse:


Opportunities for lower class women to move ahead were few and far between, to say the least. The world was most certainly not their oyster: among their few career options were the roles of domestic servant, seamstress, laundress—and when all else failed, prostitute. And each occupation brought with it a distinct set of challenges.

Prostitutes were of course viewed as the lowest of all, and they often suffered from police persecution. But even more shocking than that was the fact that many women were actually falsely accused of prostitution. Many such women were domestic servants, accused by the wives of the families they worked for after being seduced by the husbands.

Women were also regularly charged with slander and public drunkenness. Neither crime is gender-specific—but only in women was the behavior deemed criminal.

Fisher Girl, by Ilya Repin

Children were abandoned on a fairly regular basis. The lucky ones were dropped off at state-run hospices, where they usually remained until they turned twenty-five. At the hospices the children were given the basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. No education was provided—and due to severe overcrowding, very little attention was paid to each child.

The even unluckier children were forced to live on the streets and fend for themselves. In these cases, children turned to begging and thievery in order to survive.

If they were (arguably) a little luckier, they would be taken in by strangers—much like Cosette in Les Mis— in which case they would often be forced to perform heavy labor. They were usually given minimal food and shelter, and would be mistreated or neglected on a regular basis. But the unluckiest children of all were forced to turn to:


Child prostitution was rampant in nineteenth century Paris. The young girls—usually pre-pubescent—were forced into sexual encounters by men of the upper classes, and were usually paid as little as a single franc. Usually the act was consummated in a back alley or under a bridge. Sometimes a room in the girl’s own house might suffice.

Some legitimate businesses served as fronts for prostitution; they would send children to wealthy homes as “deliveries.” If a girl was old enough to be impregnated by the client, her family would in many cases throw her onto the streets for bringing shame upon the family. Left destitute and alone, the girl would then become a full-time streetwalker.

Peasants eating dinner

They might have been the most hard-working, God-fearing people in Paris—but according to the upper classes, the poor and huddled masses were dangerous and despicable.

Crime was admittedly everywhere in nineteenth century Paris, and real criminals were certainly dangerous. This caused grave problems for the many poor people who were not criminals, since the upper class viewed them all—innocent workmen like Jean Valjean included—as the “dangerous class,” to be held in contempt and ridicule.

Jean Valjean

Even though women were pretty much stuck where they were, it seems that men had it no better.

Parisian men—especially unskilled laborers—suffered high rates of mortality due to accidents on shipping docks, in workshops and on construction sites. Along with these dangerous work conditions, men had to contend with dangerous rivalries between workers from different regions in France. If for example a worker from Saint Georges happened to find himself working on the same construction site as a worker from Montparnasse, the result could be a deadly.

Many men were also forced into military service. Those few who survived for long would be prevented from marrying while they served by poor pay and strict army regulations.

Peasant House

The poor of nineteenth century Paris were concentrated in the ancient center of the city, where the buildings were in a state of disrepair and families of six to ten people lived in one-room apartments. These apartments had no running water and no indoor plumbing—and the nearest restroom was often on the streets outside.

In the outskirts of Paris, families would often share huts with their livestock. The family and livestock used the same entrance to the hut, but were divided by a partition that separated the animals from a room that served as both the kitchen and bedroom. A loft that hung above the kitchen was used to dry out the animal feed. The feed would be spread across a plank floor, meaning that bits of seed and straw would frequently drop down onto the kitchen table where the family ate their meals.

Since there was no indoor plumbing in many of the homes, the smell of raw sewage was absolutely everywhere: whether you were rich or poor, you’d struggle to escape the foul stench.

The sewage smell was made spicier by inescapable body odors, for it was often too cold or too inconvenient to bathe. On the rare occasions when people did bathe, they used low tubs filled with only a few inches of water—which wasn’t exactly the best remedy for the thick layers of slime clogging their pores.

Tumblr Lrfg1Hndmp1Qcmrkno1 500

With all the raw sewage that Paris had to contend with, it was only a matter of time before cholera hit the city hard.

Doctors found it difficult to diagnose the disease. The symptoms included everything from high fevers to chest pains and vomiting to headaches, and the disease could leave its victims bedridden in a matter of hours. The cholera epidemic of 1832 lasted six months, and resulted in 19,000 deaths.

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 At 8.43.03 Pm

Death was everywhere—and for many Parisians, death was something to be embraced rather than feared. In fact, what would be considered morbid today merely piqued the curiosity of many Parisians, who relished the most frightening tales of slaughter as much as they enjoyed the gruesome spectacle. In no instance is this more apparent than the popularity of the Paris Morgue.

Built in 1864, the Paris Morgue was the place where the bodies of the unidentified dead—many of them suicide cases—were displayed on marble slabs for friends or family to identify. The morgue soon became a fixture for Parisians, with tens or even hundreds of people shuffling into the room to gawk at the dead and gossip over their cause of death.


This entry may not strictly apply to the nineteenth century, but its repercussions were certainly felt throughout that period (and in Les Mis), and it seemed too gruesome to leave off the list. The Reign of Terror took place between June 1793 and July 1794, as French revolutionaries struggled to secure their power after the overthrow of the monarchy. Paris was thrown into chaos, and the new government into a state of utter paranoia.

After King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793, Maximilien Robespierre rose to become one of the most powerful and feared men in the country. Under his dreadful rule, thousands of citizens’ heads were chopped off at the guillotine—many of them without trials, or even explanations.

Commoners, intellectuals, politicians and prostitutes—nobody was safe from the Terror. A mere suspicion of “crimes against liberty” was enough to earn one an appointment with Madame Guillotine, also called The National Razor . The final death toll for this most miserable of periods is thought to have been between 16,000 and 40,000.

Read more:

10 Of The Strangest Moments In The History Of War

Most historical wars are odd by nature. Blowing up, shooting, and torturing thousands of people seems downright bizarre when you consider that it was usually all caused by the actions of a small group of power-crazed individuals. On a brighter note, war has led to some of the strangest and most interesting stories in history.

10French Cavalry Capture A Dutch Fleet


In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army was advancing into the United Provinces (now the Netherlands) when the cold weather led to one of the strangest battles of the era. Johan Willem de Winter was sent with a group of French Hussars to capture the strongpoint of den Helder and to keep any Dutch ships from escaping to friendly Britain. When the general arrived, he found that a Dutch fleet, which had been anchored at den Helder, had become stuck in thick ice. Silently approaching the fleet by marching onto the ice, the Hussars were able to surround the ships and force the Dutch sailors to surrender. This is the only time in recorded history that a fleet has been captured by a cavalry charge.

9Founder Of Scientology Fights Naval Battle With Imaginary Enemy


In May 1943, L. Ron Hubbard, commander of the PC-815 submarine chaser and future founder of the Church of Scientology, was ordered to take his ship from Portland to San Diego. On May 19, at 3:40 AM, Hubbard detected what he thought to be a Japanese submarine on his sonar. At 9:06 AM, two American blimps were called to help with the search. By midnight on May 21, a small fleet had been called in to help Hubbard hunt the elusive enemy, including two cruisers and two Coast Guard cutters. The ships dropped over 100 depth charges. After an engagement lasting 68 hours, with no sign of the enemy being damaged or even moving, Hubbard was recalled. A report, with testimonies from other ship commanders on the scene, later found that Hubbard had fought a 68-hour naval battle against a well-known and well-charted magnetic deposit on the sea floor. Later, Hubbard nearly caused a diplomatic incident by bombarding Mexican territory.

8Two Drunk Soldiers Start A Battle To See Who’s Tougher


In the autumn of 334 B.C., Alexander the Great was bogged down trying to take Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum) from the Persians. The defenders were well-supplied, and their walls were built to resist the recent invention of catapults. This long and difficult siege led to many a man in Alexander’s army getting bored, including two hoplites of the Perdiccas brigade. The two were bunkmates in the same tent, meaning that they often shared tales of their exploits. One day, while drunk, the two got into a fight over who was braver. Eventually they agreed that to settle the argument they would assault the walls of Halicarnassus—all by themselves.

The soldiers within the city, seeing only two men approaching, left the walls and rushed the pair. The two are reported to have slain many of their attackers before being overwhelmed and killed. However, soldiers from both forces saw the small fight and rushed to help their respective sides, resulting in a full-blown battle. During the attack started by two drunk men, the lightly guarded walls were nearly captured by the attacking forces on several occasions. Had all of Alexander’s forces been dedicated to the attack, the city would have likely fallen to two drunk guys trying to test their manhood.

7The British Get The Ottomans High

On the 5th of November, 1917, the British were striking back at the Ottoman Empire, who had attacked their colonies in the region during World War I. The Turks were forced back to Sheria, just south of Gaza. Richard Meinertzhagen, a member of British intelligence, decided to give the besieged Ottomans a gift, dropping cigarettes and propaganda leaflets from a plane. Unbeknownst to the Turks, Meinertzhagen had laced these cigarettes with opium in an attempt to drug the defenders, who happily lit up. When the British attacked Sheria the next day, they came across very little resistance. What they did come across were Ottoman defenders so high that they could barely stand, let alone raise their rifles in defense of the town.

6Meteorite Wins Battle


Lucullus, a politician of the Roman Republic, was a major commander during the Third Mithridatic War of 76–63 B.C. Hoping to attack the Kingdom of Pontus while its army was away, Lucullus was surprised to find his invasion force met by King Mithridates of Pontus himself. With the two armies on the verge of battle, a “fireball” meteorite was suddenly sighted in the sky. The molten object then slammed into the ground between the armies. Reports from each side suggest that both forces, fearing the wrath of their respective gods, fled the battlefield as quickly as they could, making the visitor from out of this world the first alien victor of a human battle. Lucullus was eventually successful in his conquest of Pontus, though failed attempts to invade Armenia led to the Senate relieving him of his command.

5A Bathroom Break Causes A War


The Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place on July 7–9, 1937. The Bridge, located in Beijing, was right on the border between the Empire of Japan and China. Since it was a period of high tension, the buffer zone was being occupied by both Japanese and Chinese troops. After unplanned night maneuvers by the Japanese on the night of the 7th, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. After the fire ceased, Private Shimura Kikujiro, of the Japanese Army, failed to return to his post.

After the Chinese allowed a search for Kikujiro, the Japanese, thinking the private had been captured and looking for any excuse, attacked the Chinese positions during the early morning hours of July 8. Both sides took numerous casualties. This battle eventually resulted in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which itself eventually blended into World War II. Private Shimura returned to his position later that day, bewildered at the claims that he’d been captured and saying that he’d become lost after going to the toilet in a secluded spot.

4Tootsie Rolls Delivered As Ammunition


The Battle of Chosin Reservoir between encircled United Nations forces and Chinese troops raged from the 27th of November until the 13th of December, 1950. 120,000 Chinese troops entered North Korea and eventually forced the 20,000-strong United Nations force to retreat from their defensive positions at the reservoir. Though the Chinese took great casualties, the battle is still seen as a Chinese victory as it brought about the complete UN withdrawal from North Korea. One of the factors that may have contributed to the UN loss at the reservoir were Tootsie Rolls.

After running desperately low on ammunition, the mortar division of the US Marines risked losing aircraft and supplies to anti-aircraft fire. They decided to call in a resupply by parachute. Unfortunately, someone in the supply depot, not knowing that mortar shells went by the code name “Tootsie Rolls,” sent a plane loaded with candy into the war zone. The delicious treats, which were eaten rather than used as projectiles, reportedly kept morale high until the United Nation Forces were forced to break their encirclement and flee to the south.

3A Blind King Charges Into Battle


On August 26, 1346, an English and Welsh army met a French force at Crecy, France. The Bohemian King, John, had joined the conflict on the French side and accompanied their army with his own knights. In 1340, while on a crusading mission, John had lost his sight completely. However, after being a warrior for most of his life, he didn’t really seem to take much notice of his new disability.

Some way into the melee of the battle, it was obvious that the English and Welsh were going to win, with France’s Genoese mercenaries being routed by their longbows. John, however, was unable to see the full extent of the retreat. His knights, perhaps too afraid to tell the King to run, were unable to persuade him that charging the enemy wasn’t the greatest of plans. Riding on horseback, with a mounted knight attached to the King’s bridle on either side, John went straight for the English. His brave escorts, who presumably had to duck his blind swings, were found dead along with the King after the battle.

2A Soldier Becomes Veteran Of Three Armies


In 1938, 18-year-old Korean Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army to fight the Soviets. A year later, during the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol, Yang was captured by the Red Army and eventually sent to a labor camp. However by 1942, the USSR was engaged in a bloody fight with the advancing German army. With a military strategy that mostly involved sending their own men to die until the enemy ran out of bullets, they needed new bodies constantly. Yang was “convinced,” likely under threat of death, to join the Red Army.

In 1943, he was captured once again, by German soldiers during the battle of Kharkov. With the Soviet strategy working, Germany now also needed bodies and Yang was convinced to join the German army. Yang was later captured for the last time by American forces in June 1944. After becoming a veteran of three armies, he decided against joining another.

1The British Sink Their Own Flagship

In fairness to L. Ron Hubbard, the legendary British Navy had an even worse disaster at sea. The HMS Victoria, a battleship of the Royal Navy, began service in 1888 and was destined to be the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. Battleships, costing as much as £1.35 million apiece, were not something that Britain could spare. Despite this, they still managed to sink it, even without the help of the enemy. On June 22, 1893, Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon and the 10 battleships of the Mediterranean fleet were heading out to sea. Ordered into two columns, only 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) apart, the Vice Admiral decided to try something quite absurd.

Wanting to put on a show, he ordered the two ships leading the column to turn 180 degrees toward each other and then continue forward to port, with the rest of the column repeating this move. The gap between the ships was far less than the turning circle for either battleship, something which Tryon had failed to calculate in his desire to take the lead in some synchronized sailing. The two insanely expensive battleships inevitably crashed, sinking the Victoria, which had only seen five years of service, and badly damaging the HMS Camperdown. Over half the crew of the Victoria was killed. Rather than face embarrassment, and a rather expensive bill, Tryon decided to go down with the ship.

Read more:

10 Astounding Actions Earning A Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” Because of the nature of its criteria, the medal is often awarded posthumously.

300Px-E E Evans At Uss Johnston Commissioning

In one of the most awe-inspiring displays of reckless bravery WWII has to offer the history books, Cmdr. Evans, three-fourths Cherokee from Oklahoma, led his destroyer, the USS Johnston, straight into the face of a gargantuan Japanese naval fleet, on 25 October 1944, off Samar Island, in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

He was part of a very small fleet designed to support the marines currently assaulting Leyte. This fleet had 3 destroyers, very small ships, 4 destroyer escorts, even smaller, and 6 escort carriers, with only about 30 planes each. The fleet was not expecting a naval engagement because Adm. Halsey’s much larger fleet was supposed to be guarding the north flank. Halsey, however, had gone after another Japanese fleet and left the flank open.

Down came another Japanese fleet intent on destroying the marines on Leyte. Task Unit 77.4.3 (Taffy 3) initially tried to flee the area when confronted by such massive force. Evans, however, refused to yield to the enemy. As soon as the Johnston sighted the enemy, Evans came over the intercom, “A large Japanese fleet has been contacted. They are fifteen miles away and headed in our direction. They are believed to have four battleships, eight cruisers, and a number of destroyers. This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”

He ordered the Johnston to come about and attack at flank speed, charging the entire fleet alone. When Adm. Sprague, in charge of Taffy 3, saw this, he laughed and said, “Well, what the hell. You gotta die of something. Small boys attack.”

The rest of the destroyers and destroyer escorts turned and followed the Johnston, and the Japanese opened fire with 18.1 inch guns, 16 inch guns, 14 inch guns, 8 and 6 inch guns, blasting up the water on both sides of the Johnston. Astoundingly, Evans conned the ship through the splashes in a zigzag until he was within range with his 5 inch guns, which could not penetrate the hulls of the IJN’s battleships and cruisers. He ordered fire concentrated on the upper decks to do the most damage, and this succeeded in knocking down the superstructures and setting the ships afire.

Then the Johnston fired torpedoes and blew the bow off the Kumano, a heavy cruiser, which necessitated another cruiser leaving the fight to assist evacuation. Finally, the Japanese scored hits, a 14 incher, and three 6 inchers, which went clean through the entire vessel without detonating. The first knocked out half the engine power and the electricity to the aft gun turrets.

Evans was struck by one of the blasts and had 2 fingers ripped from his left hand and his shirt burned off.

The Johnston was crippled, but still refused to withdraw and set out a smoke screen. The other destroyers and escorts arrived and every man was consigned to death in order to enable the escort carriers to escape.

By the time it was over, the Johnston had slugged it out with titanic battleships and cruisers, and a line of 4 IJN destroyers, driving the latter off, until another salvo knocked the engine out and detonated several 5 inch shells in the forward magazine.

The Johnston was dead in the water and the IJN surrounded it and fired from all sides. Incredibly, Evans refused to order “abandon ship” until all remaining rounds had been fired, even the starbusts, which are like flares, and the sandbag rounds for practice. When the Japanese passed the survivors in the water, they threw them food and water and saluted them, shouting, “Samurai! Samurai!”

Evans was not among the survivors pulled from the water after the battle. His fate is unknown. He may have been eaten by sharks.


One of the more darkly humorous episodes of warfare occurred on 29 January 1945, in Holzheim, Belgium. Funk and his paratroopers were assaulting the town, and he left a rearguard of 4 men, while he scouted ahead to link up with other units, Those 4 men had to guard about 80 German prisoners.

Another German patrol of 10 happened by and overwhelmed the 4 Americans, freeing the prisoners and arming them. When Funk returned around the corner of a building, he was met by a German officer with an MP-40 in his stomach. The German shouted something at him, and Funk looked around.

There were now about 90 Germans, about half of them armed, and 5 Americans, disarmed except for Funk. The German shouted the same thing at him again, and Funk started laughing. He claimed later that he tried to stop laughing, but the fact that the German was shouting in German touched a nerve. Funk didn’t speak German. Neither did any of the other Americans. Why would the German officer expect him to understand?

His laughter and non-compliance caused some of the Germans to start laughing. Funk shrugged at them and started laughing so hard he had to bend over. He called to his men, “I don’t understand what he’s saying!” All the while, the German officer was shouting more and more angrily.

Then, quick as lightning, Funk swung his Thompson submachine gun up and emptied the entire clip into the German, 30 rounds of .45 ACP. Before the other Germans could react, he had yanked the clip out and slammed another in and opened fire on all of them, screaming to his men to pick up weapons. They did so, and proceeded to gun down 20 men. The rest dropped their weapons and put their hands up.

Then Funk started laughing again and said to his men, “That was the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen!”


One of the hardest fights the Allies had in Europe was outside Aachen, Germany, the Battle of Crucifix Hill. The crucifix is still there, now a monument to the battle. Brown was placed in charge of Company C, with about 120 men, assigned to take the hill or die trying. The entire American force on the hill was a full regiment of about 500. They were facing an equal number of well entrenched Germans. If the hill was not taken, the Allies could not encircle Aachen. The Germans could pour down artillery on the entire town.

There were at least 43 pillboxes and bunkers, bristling with machine guns and plenty of men. Company C was assigned pillboxes 17, 18, 19, 20, 26, 29, and 30. The worst of these was 20, with a 360 degree turret on top armed with an 88 mm cannon. The walls were 6 feet of steel reinforced concrete.

After crawling 150 yards under heavy enemy fire to 18 and blowing it up with a satchel charge, Brown crawled again through heavy enemy fire, 35 yards to 19, and several mortar rounds landed around him, knocking him down. He got back up, climbed on top of the bunker and dropped a bangalore torpedo through a hole in the roof. This blew a larger hole, into which he dropped a satchel, and destroyed the emplacement.

20, however, had 45 men and 6 machine guns aimed out around it. When he returned for more demolition, his sergeant told him, “There’s bullet holes in your canteen.” He had been hit in the hip and was bleeding profusely. He crawled down a communications trench 20 yards from 19 to 20, and saw a German entering a steel door in the side. Brown was an ex-boxer, and knocked this man out with one swing, through him inside, and then threw 2 in satchel charges, and ran.

20 exploded so violently that flames flew out the top and caught a tree on fire. Brown personally led his men on a path of destruction through the rest of their assignments, and after an hour of tooth-and-nail fighting, Crucifix Hill was reduced to smoking rubble.

Brown shot himself in 1971, plagued ever since the war with bad memories and pain from his wounds.

Screen Shot 2010-02-19 At 9.12.55 Am

On 2 May 1968, 12 Green Berets were surrounded near Loc Ninh, South Vietnam, by an entire battalion of NVA. They were thus outnumbered, 12 men versus about 1,000. They dug in and tried to hold them off, but were not going to last long. Benavidez heard their distress call over a radio in town and boarded a rescue helicopter with first aid equipment. He did not have time to grab a weapon before the helicopter left, so he voluntarily jumped into the hot LZ armed only with his knife.

He sprinted across 75 meters of open terrain through withering small arms and machine gun fire to reach the pinned down MACV-SOG team. By the time he reached them, he had been shot 4 times, twice in the right leg, once through both cheeks, which knocked out four molars, and a glancing shot off his head.

He ignored these wounds and began administering first aid. The rescue chopper left as it was not designed to extract men. An extraction chopper was sent for, and Benavidez took command of the men by directing their fire around the edges of the clearing in order to facilitate the chopper’s landing. When the aircraft arrived, he supervised the loading of the wounded on board, while throwing smoke canisters to direct the chopper’s exact landing. He was wounded severely and at all times under heavy enemy crossfire, but still carried and dragged half of the wounded men to the chopper.

He then ran alongside the landing skids providing protective fire into the trees as the chopper moved across the LZ collecting the wounded. The enemy fire got worse, and Benavidez was hit solidly in the left shoulder. He got back up and ran to the platoon leader, dead in the open, and retrieved classified documents. He was shot in the abdomen, and a grenade detonated nearby peppering his back with shrapnel.

The chopper pilot was mortally wounded then, and his chopper crashed. Benavidez was in extremely critical condition, and still refused to fall. He ran to the wreckage and got the wounded out of the aircraft, and arranged them into a defensive perimeter to wait for the next chopper. The enemy automatic rifle fire and grenades only intensified, and Benavidez ran and crawled around the perimeter giving out water and ammunition.

The NVA was building up to wipe them out, and Benavidez called in tactical air strikes with a squawk box and threw smoke to direct the fire of arriving gunships. Just before the extraction chopper landed, he was shot again in the left thigh while giving first aid to a wounded man. He still managed to get to his feet and carry some of the men to the chopped, directing the others, when an NVA soldier rushed from the woods and clubbed him over the head with an AK-47. This caused a skull fracture and a deep gash to his left upper arm, and yet he still got back up and decapitated the soldier with one swing of his knife, severing the spine and all tissue on one side of the neck. He then resumed carrying the wounded to the chopper and returning for others, and was shot twice more in the lower back. He shot two more NVA soldiers trying to board the chopper, then made one last trip around the LZ to be sure all documents were retrieved, and finally boarded the chopper. He had lost 2 quarts of blood. Before he blacked out, he shouted to one of the other Green Berets, “Another great day to be in South Vietnam!”

This battle lasted six hours. He had been wounded 37 times.

455Px-Stein T

The first Medal of Honor recipient for actions during the battle of Iwo Jima, Stein charged right into the thickest parts of the fray on D-Day, with the 1st Battalion, 28th Reg., 5th Marines Div. in the assault across the narrowest part of the island, in order to cut off Mount Suribachi from the rest.

He was armed with a homemade .50 caliber machine gun that he salvaged from a downed American aircraft on another island. He fired this from the hip as he charged across the volcanic plains, and engaged the enemy at every pillbox and bunker that he saw shooting at him.

He was observed far ahead of the rest of his men, following, not fleeing, the dust-spots of machine gun fire all around him, disappearing and reappearing in mortar explosions, sprinting and firing at them face to face.

He deliberately stood upright from cover to draw enemy fire to him and away from pinned down marines, and to ascertain enemy locations, then charged them and killed 20 enemy soldiers before he ran out of ammunition. His weapon fired 100 rounds in 5 seconds.

He took off his helmet and boots, then ran back down to the beach to rearm, then returned and resumed fighting. He did this 8 times, and on every trip back to the beach, he picked up a wounded man and carried him on his shoulders. He destroyed at least 14 enemy installations on the first day of action.

He was killed almost 2 weeks later on a scouting mission, by a sniper, after having been given leave from the island, and then returning when he heard how hard a time his buddies were having.

When told about Stein afterward, Joe Rosenthal, who took the famous flag-raising picture on Suribachi, said, “Running through bullets and not getting hit is like running through rain and not getting wet!”

Screen Shot 2010-02-19 At 9.14.32 Am

Thomas Baker personally shot 12 Japanese soldiers manning a machine gun behind his lines on Saipan. This was several days after he ran ahead of his men into the open fire of a pillbox, and fired a bazooka into it. Right after he killed those 12 men, he ran farther back to occupy a rearguard position for his men as they advanced across open terrain. He surprised a group of 6 enemy soldiers concealed and waiting to ambush the next group of Americans to pass. He shot all 6 dead.

Almost 3 weeks later, as the Battle of Saipan was drawing to an end, the Japanese staged a last-ditch banzai attack, the largest of the war, at night, and Baker’s perimeter was beset on 3 sides by at least 3,000 drunken, screaming soldiers. There may have been 5,000.

He dug into a foxhole and shot down scores of them until his ammunition was exhausted, by which time he had been shot in the abdomen. He then destroyed his rifle by using it as a baseball bat against a dozen more.

Another marine ran to rescue him and carry him back. He had gotten about 50 yards when a Japanese soldier shot the rescuer dead. Baker shot the Japanese dead with the rescuer’s rifle. A second marine arrived to help him, but Baker shoved him away, shouting, “Get away from me! I’ve caused enough problems! Gimme your .45!”

The marine handed it to him and propped him against a tree and fled. A third marine passed some time later and offered to help him, but Baker refused. When they found him the next morning, he lay dead against the tree in a pool of blood, his pistol empty, and 8 dead Japanese soldiers around him.

Col Howard

S/Sg Bob Howard is the closest anyone has ever gotten to 3 Medals of Honor for 3 separate actions. He was a Green Beret of the highly classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), and his men engaged in black ops all over North Vietnam, and into Cambodia at a time when these actions were very sensitive to world opinion of the United States.

This is why his first two actions were downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross: the government did not want to draw attention to the MACV-SOG. His Medal of Honor finally came because of a rescue mission he led into Cambodia to find Pfc. Robert Scherdin. Howard was a Sfc. at the time, and after his platoon left the cover of its helicopter, it was attacked by 2 companies of NVA, about 300 men.

Howard took shrapnel to the fronts of his legs and forearms from a grenade, and his rifle was blown to pieces out of his hands. When he sat up he saw his platoon leader seriously wounded and exposed to fire, and proceeded to crawl through withering machine gun and small arms fire. As he administered first aid, a bullet blew one of his ammunition pouches off his belt, detonating several magazines of M-16 rounds.

He still crawled back with the wounded platoon leader, then crawled among his buddies administering first aid, and directing their fire to better places. This lasted for 3 and a half hours, until they actually fought the NVA off and permitted the arrival of two more helicopters. Howard refused to leave until everyone was aboard, all the while taking heavy enemy fire from within the jungle.

Howard was wounded 14 times in 54 months performing deeds like this. He died 23 Dec. 2009 in Waco, TX, from pancreatic cancer.

York Jpg

WWI’s most famous American hero could not stand talking about what he did to become so. He was a conscientious objector, claiming Christianity on his draft notice, and yet was still drafted because the U. S. military does not put much stock into Christian pacifism (though Jesus was quite clear on whether or not you should kill people).

He finally decided to go to war because he would be helping stop the Germans and save American lives. He became well known as the finest marksman at Camp Gordon, GA, scoring perfect bullseyes with open sights more often than the snipers did with scopes.

When his drill instructor how he did it, he said something one might expect from Yogi Berra, “I was born shootin’ a gun better than I could read, sir. I still can.”

York’s battalion was sent to secure the Decauville railway, just north of Chatel-Chehery, in North France, just south of Belgium, on 8 October 1918. 17 men, four non-coms, and 13 privates were ordered to flank the German line and destroy the machine guns from the rear. They captured about 70 Germans and were trying to disarm them, when the machine guns spotted them and turned around to fire on them. 9 Americans around York dropped immediately, 6 of them dead.

Corporal York was now in charge, and left the 7 Americans still fit for duty to guard the Germans while he ran from cover to cover up the hill, shooting the whole way.

“And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”

He shot 15 men dead with his own rifle, and was out of ammunition. He then pulled his .45 and shot 8 more that charged him with bayonets. He then grabbed one of their rifles and fired on a few more machine gun nests, until the Germans surrendered.

When a friend back home, who did not enlist, asked him how many Germans he killed, York started sobbing so hard he threw up. He had killed at least 28.


WWII’s answer to SG York was a man only 5 feet 5 inches tall, and 150 pounds. He earned every major combat award the U. S. has to offer, fighting in Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Rome, and France. He got the DSC in Normandy, when a German called down from a hilltop that he was surrendering. One of Murphy’s buddies took the bait and stood up, right into a sniper’s bullet. This infuriated Murphy, who jumped up and shot the sniper dead, then charged up the hill and wiped out a machine gun nest of 6 men, firing and throwing grenades at them. Then he picked up the MG-42 and charged over the hillside spraying it from the hip, killing 10 more men.

When asked how it felt to have the DSC, he said, “I got the DSC. All he got was dead.” It was on 26 January 1945, in Holtzwihr, France, almost on the German border, that he earned the Medal of Honor for ordering his men to retreat as the German assault on the town began. His unit had only 19 fighting men left out of 128. He stayed behind and shot the Germans as they emerged from the woods to cross a clearing, until he was out of ammunition. He then climbed onto a burning tank destroyer and used the .50 caliber machine gun to push them back. The Panzers and mortars started blowing up the ground all around him, but he continued this one-man assault for an hour, until he started calling in artillery strikes over the tank destroyer’s phone.

He called these strikes in closer and closer to his position, blowing up Germans and tanks less than 50 yards from him. He finally called a strike on his position, prompting the man on the other end to say, “That’s right on top of you! How close are they!?”

“Hold the phone! I’ll let you talk to them!” he shouted and jumped from the vehicle, and ran into the woods as they overran his position and were struck down again by American cannon fire. As the Germans were in disarray, he called his men out and organized a counter-attack, driving the German’s back.

His men estimated that he had killed 50 men.


William Hawkins waged one of the most furious one-man army assaults on enemy positions in the history of modern warfare. When the marines went ashore on Tarawa atoll, Betio Island, Hawkins told Robert Sherrod, who later became an editor for the Saturday Evening Post, that he would put his platoon of 40 men against any company of 150 men on Earth and guarantee to win.

“He was slightly wounded by shrapnel as he came ashore in the first wave, but the furthest thing from his mind was to be evacuated. He led his platoon into the forest of coconut palms. During a day and a half he personally cleaned out six Jap machine gun nests, sometimes standing on top of a track and firing point blank at four or five men who fired back at him from behind blockhouses. Lieutenant Hawkins was wounded a second time, but he still refused to retire.”

These machine gun nests were pyramidal huts about the size of a large trash can, made of 6 inch-thick steel, up into which a Japanese soldier could pop from underground and man the heavy or light machine gun through a 4 inch slit.

They were everywhere on the island, and the preparatory bombardment had missed most of them. While most of the marines dug in and kept their heads down, Hawkins stood up in full view not more than 5 yards from these pillboxes and fired his M-1 Carbine at them, killing the soldier and allowing his men to move forward to the next one. He refused to keep his head down, and when he ran out of ammunition, he ran up to their mouths and threw in grenades and satchel charges.

These machine guns fired explosive rounds, about .30 caliber, when a simple lump of lead isn’t enough. He destroyed 7 pillboxes and one blockhouse by himself, despite being wounded early in the engagement. The first was shrapnel as he disembarked the long Betio pier. Later in the day, one of the pillboxes caught him in the chest.

He was helped back to a medic, who bandaged him and demanded he get on a first aid boat and leave. He refused, and said, “Don’t tie it so tight that I can’t shoot.” The medic radioed Col. David Shoup, who also won the Medal of Honor for his leadership on the island, and Shoup asked Hawkins to leave.

“I’m not doing it, sir! I came here to kill Japs, not go home!”

Shoup relented and the medic complied, and Hawkins destroyed three more pillboxes by the end of the day. He was throwing his fourth grenade at another one when the gunner inside shot him dead. He was 29. Sherrod said later, “To say that his conduct was worthy of the highest traditions of the Marine Corps is like saying the Empire State Building is moderately high.”

Read more:

15 Historical Facts You Don’t Know

We all love facts – especially historical ones and ones that are new to us. This list looks at 15 facts that are, hopefully, unknown to most of us here. From the Ancient world to the early modern times, these are all entries that have not appeared before on Listverse. Be sure to add your own unusual or little-known facts to the comments.

Simeon Stylites Stepping Down

1. Saint Simeon Stylites (pictured) was a monk who gained fame in the 5th century for spending 37 years standing on a small platform on top of a tall pillar in Syria. He did it for ascetic reasons and his example was followed in later years by other well known stylite saints. His story is quite amazing and you can read more about it here.

2. In the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt, hoards of staff and family members were walled up with the body of the dead king. The humans and animals buried with the king were expected to help him in the afterlife.

3. In 1927 Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread. He made the first machine to slice and wrap bread and won a patent for the process. After only six years from invention, more sliced bread was sold than unsliced.

4. In 1911, pigtails were banned in China because they were seen as a link with its feudal past.

5. To save the effort of sailing boats upstream, Mesopotamian traders built collapsable boats which they would sail downstream with a donkey on board. At the other end of their journey they would sell the frame and when they finished trading, they would use the donkey to return home.

Alexander The Great

6. In ancient Rome the punishment for killing one’s father was to be drowned in a sack along with a viper, a dog, and a rooster. The reason behind this? I have no idea.

7. Alexander the Great (pictured) invented a spying technique still used today: he had his soldiers write letters home, which he then intercepted and read to discover who was against him.

8. In Gubbio, Northern Italy, a race has been run every year since the 12th century – and the outcome is rigged. Villagers carry three statues in the race, Saints Ubaldo (for whom the race was started), Anthony and George. Every year Saint Ubaldo comes first, Saint George second, and Saint Anthony last.

9. When anaesthetic was used for the first time in childbirth in 1847, the mother was so amazed and relieved at how painless the birth was that she named her child Anaesthesia.

10. The last time a cavalry charge was used in war was in the Second World War. A mongolian cavalry division charged against a German infantry division – the result? Not one German was killed and 2,000 of the cavalry were.

1St Woman

11. The grid layout used in many cities around the world is not a new invention – it first appeared in the city of Mohenjo Daro, in India, 4,500 years ago. The houses to the side of the streets had bare walls facing the street to keep out the sun and dust from carts.

12. The first policewoman was Alice Stebbins Wells (pictured) who joined the LAPD in 1910. Because she was the first (and only) policewoman, she designed her own police uniform. Four years later, Britain had their first woman policeman.

13. In the 1700s in Paris, women wore hats with lightning rods attached when venturing outdoors during bad weather. Bad idea.

14. In circa 3100–3050 BC Egypt was ruled by its very first Pharaoh – King Menes. It was said that he was the first human ruler – inheriting the throne from the god Horus.

15. Gorgias of Epirus (3rd century BC), a Greek sophist, was born in his dead mother’s coffin! Pallbearers heard him crying out as they carried his mother’s coffin to the grave.

Read more:

Top 10 Teenage Military Leaders

As a boy, I remember lying on the floor playing with my plastic army men, leading them to victory after victory. My younger self always wanted to be a military hero, and I think most children have a similar desire. While my need for military conquest naturally faded as I grew older and more mature, there are examples throughout history where the very young were able to turn that desire into reality. This list looks at 10 figures in history who began leading armies before their 20th birthday.

10Michael Asen II of Bulgaria

While many of these leaders were successful, Michael Asen II is one who was too young and inexperienced to have any success. He came to the throne at only seven years of age following the death of his father, Constantine Tikh, in battle. Being so young, the majority of the ruling was done by his mother, Maria Kantakouzene, who was the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, Michael VIII. At this time, the throne was fighting rebels all vying for a claim to the throne. Being the king, Michael Asen II took his father’s place at the head of the military and, though he did very little actual leading, was on the battlefield on several occasions in full battle armament made especially for the young boy.

In 1279, when he was only nine years old, the Byzantine emperor decided to place a more suitable leader on the throne. The Byzantine army easily took the capital, and Michael Asen II and his mother were sent into exile. Although he would attempt to return to Bulgaria with an army later in life, he would be unable to assert himself as the true king and his attempted takeover eventually failed. The date of his death is unknown.

9Gregorio del Pilar

This one is a bit of a stretch, since he did not technically lead until his early 20s, but his career and fame would make it a shame to leave him off this list. Since he lived much later than most entries on this list, it was much more difficult for young soldiers to find themselves in positions of military leadership. Gregorio was born in 1875, the fifth of six children. His military career began immediately following college at the age of 20 with the start of the Philippine Revolution. Joining the revolutionaries against the Spanish, his actions and bravery in battle brought him to the rank of lieutenant only a few months after joining the service.

A year later, now a captain at the age of only 21, he proposed an attack on a Spanish garrison at Paombong that was an overwhelming victory, leading to his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He was exiled to Hong Kong following a truce agreement between the rebels and Spanish the same year. Only two years later, with the Spanish forces weakened due to the Spanish-American War, Gregorio and others would return to the Philippians to finish what they had begun. In June of 1898, he accepted the surrender of the Spanish in the town of Bulacan and was promoted to general at only 23 years old. This earned him the nickname “boy general” and he was widely respected by his men. He later found success fighting the Americans in the Philippine-American War until he died fighting at the age of 24. He is considered a hero in the Philippines, with several statues and monuments dedicated to him.

8Okita Soji

While not a military leader in the strictest sense of the word, he was a leading member of a special police force during the late shogunate period in Japan. Okita was a samurai who began training in swordsmanship around the age of nine. When he was only 12, he was defeating kenjutsu (swordsmanship) teachers in rival schools and attained the Menkyo Kaiden scroll labeling him as a master of his style at age 18. He was the head teacher at a dojo for the next year before becoming a founding member of the Shinsengumi, becoming their first unit captain at the age of 19.

While noted for his kindness off the battlefield, he was ruthless on it. During the famous Ikedaya Affair, he held a group of rebels on the second floor of a Kyoto hotel by himself. Eventually, the Shinsengumi would become more involved with the shogunate military, and Okita would assist in several battles. Like many other non-royal leaders on this list, he would die very young, although not in battle. He fell seriously ill in 1867 and died (probably of tuberculosis) in July of 1868 at the approximate age of 24. He is considered one of only 13 Kensei, or “sword saints”, and is one of the greatest swordsmen in the history of Japan.

7Henry IV of France

henry iv assassination
Henry IV was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty of France. He baptized Catholic but would convert to Protestantism in the bloody French Wars of Religion. As a teenager, Henry joined and lead the Huguenot forces during this time period. He was known as a striking and brave leader for such a young age, and led several charges into battle himself. At the age of 19, he was nearly killed in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, but was only spared when he promised to convert to Catholicism.

He was held captive by the Catholic forces for the next 4 years, before escaping in 1576 and rejoining the Protestant forces. In 1587, at the age of 24, he defeated a royalist army at the Battle of Coutras, which would lead to his ultimate rise to the throne. He was crowned king of France in 1589 and was adored by the people, known as a man of kindness, compassion, and good humor, but was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610.

6Wladyslaw III of Poland

Wladyslaw is another king who succeeded to the throne at a very young age, being only 10 years old. With such a young king in power, many others saw an opportunity to take the throne for themselves, and thus his early reign was more of an internal struggle between the royal family and nobles. At the age of 17, when the kingship in the neighboring Kingdom of Hungary was being debated, Waldyslaw led armies with several other nations under the blessing of Pope Eugene IV against Hungary’s regent Elizabeth of Luxembourg. Following her defeat, he accepted the crown of the Kingdom of Hungary at the age of 19.

The threat of the Ottoman Empire was growing around this time and, with promised backing of Venetian and papal fleets, Waldyslaw turned his recently victorious forces to a holy war against the Turks. However he was betrayed by the Venetian fleets, which helped sail the Turkish forces from Asia to Europe. His army of 20,000 crusaders was caught by surprise when they met an army of 60,000 Turks in the Battle of Varna. Believing the only way for victory was to attack the very person of the sultan Murad II, he personally led the charge of his best cavalry into the heart of the battlefield. While his enemies noted his bravery, it would not be enough to win him the day.

He was overcome by the sultan’s janissaries and killed, his head cut off and raised on a pike for the rest of his army to see, causing them to flee the battlefield. Neither his body nor armor was ever recovered.

5Augustus (Octavian) Caesar

Augustus was born in 63 B.C. as the son of Gaius Octavius. In his early teens, he was sent to Apollonia, a city in modern-day Albania. He was only 18 years old when news of Julius Caesar’s assassination reached him. Ignoring counsel to seek refuge with troops in Macedonia, he returned to Italia and learned Caesar had left him two-thirds of his estate and, having no living legitimate children, had named him both his son and heir. Set on following in his adopted father’s footsteps, he began to gather support of those loyal to Caesar by emphasizing his status as the rightful heir to Caesar.

On May 6, 44 B.C., 18-year-old Augustus led an army of more than 3,000 veteran troops into Rome, meeting with little resistance since many were sympathetic to his cause. He succeeded in driving Caesar’s assassins, who were under a truce with the current consul Mark Antony, out of the city. With the Senate opinion of Antony shifting from friend to foe, Augustus began to build his military forces, even winning over two of Antony’s legions with the promise of higher wages. After Antony fled Rome, Augustus was inducted to the Senate at the tender age of 19 and granted imperium, which made his command of his army legal. They sent him along with two other consuls to defeat Mark Antony, and they did so at the battles of Forum Gallorum and Mutina, forcing Antony to retreat, although the two consuls were killed in the process.

This left 19-year-old Octavious in sole command of what remained of eight Roman legions. However, he was recalled to Rome, and his remaining troops were given to another commander. He would see more successful military exploits later in life, and eventually become the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He died in 14 A.D. at the age of 75.

4Scipio Africanus

Scipio was a general during the Second Punic War and is most famous for being the commander of the Roman forces that defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, though he was in his mid-30s at the time.

His father, Publius Cornelius Scipio, was also a Roman general. While exactly when he began training for military service is unknown, he was believed to be present on battlefields with his father at around 16 years of age. He became on of his father’s commanders by age 18, leading soldiers through several campaigns and gained a certain amount of fame at the Battle of Ticinus in 218 B.C., when he led a suicidal charge against enemy forces that had completely surrounded his father. The Greek historian Polybius noted his exceptional bravery and reckless daring in battle at such a young age.

Even so, his father’s army never had much luck on the battlefield and saw several disastrous defeats. These early losses would play a grand role in his development as a leader. Once he was promoted to general and given an army of his own at the age of 25, he would never again know the sting of defeat. Following his defeat of Hannibal, the Roman people wanted him to become their dictator, though he wanted no part in Roman politics and refused the offer. He continued to lead victorious armies until his retirement in 187 B.C. He died four years later at the age of 53 and is still widely considered to be one of the greatest generals in world history.

3Muhammad bin Qasim

Muhammad bin Qasim was a general who fought for the Umayyad Caliphate, the second of the four major Islamic caliphates following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. He was a member of the Thaqeef tribe, learning the art of leadership and warfare from his uncle, who was the Umayyad governor at the time. After proving himself on the battlefield at a very young age, he was given command of an army at the age of only 17.

It was with this army that he began his conquest of the Singh and Punjab regions along the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan. His campaign was the third such attempt to conquer the region, the first two having been colossal failures. Where others had failed however, Qasim had remarkable success. He rode with his army, taking city after city. Word of his victories earned him many allies, and his army of 6,000 quickly swelled to around 25,000. He was noted as a ruthless military leader, even at such a young age. His military strategy was outlined by his own word as being one that would “kill anyone belonging to the combatants while imprisoning their remaining family, but showing mercy to those who yielded and refused to fight, granting them safety.”

His success is widely contributed to the discipline of his troops and his usage of superior military equipment such as siege engines and the Mongolian bow. Following his conquest, he set up a successful administration in the region. Qasim’s policies met with little resistance from locals as they allowed the observance of local religious customs in exchange for acceptance of Muslim rule. He was preparing his army for another conquest when there was a change in Umayyad leadership. The new leader recalled the generals and appointed a new governor who held a grudge against Qasim and had him arrested. There are several accounts of how he died: one says he was wrapped and stitched in oxen hides and carried through the desert, where he suffocated, while another states he was tortured to death. Historians agree he was no older than 20 at the time.

2St. Joan of Arc

joan of arc
While lacking some of the military prowess that other entries on this list have, Joan has to be so high on this list because she was a teenage girl leading armies in a time when females simply did not fight on the battlefield. Joan was born in the small French village of Domremy in 1412. The house she was born in still stands and is now a museum. When she was 12 years old, she claimed to have a vision of saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret who told her to drive the English out of France.

At 16, she gained the audience of the royal French court and made a remarkable prediction about a military reversal that would occur near Orleans. Impressed, King Charles VII granted her request to travel with the army and dress as a knight. In order to test the validity of her claim that her mission was of a divine nature, she was sent to attempt to raise the siege at the city of Orleans. She arrived in April 1429 at the age of 17. Historians continue to debate whether or not she actually led armies or was simply a presence there to raise troop morale, but she was no stranger to the battlefield and was noted as showing no fear. On May 7, she ignored a decision to wait for reinforcement and lead a charge against the main English stronghold called Les Tourelles. Though wounded in the neck by an arrow, she returned to lead the final charge herself and was regarded as the heroine of the battle.

With the victory, Joan was seen as a hero. She petitioned for and received co-command of the French army and began attacking and recapturing several small French towns and key bridges. She was present at the battle of Patay, in which the English suffered a humiliating defeat. She also played a key role in the French assault on Paris, where she continued to lead troops despite a crossbow bolt to the leg. She aided in the capture of several other cities over the next year, while seeing her fair share of losses as well. Now 18 years old, she traveled to Compiegne in May of 1430 to help defend the city against a combined English and Burgundian siege. Outnumbered during a skirmish, she ordered a retreat and assumed the place of honor as the last to leave the battlefield. However, she was surrounded and captured by the Burgundians.

She attempted escape several times, but was eventually sold to the English, who accused and convicted her of heresy. Sentenced to be burned at the stake at only 19, eyewitnesses reported she showed no fear at her execution. The executioner, Geoffroy Therage, stated that he “greatly feared to be damned.” On May 16, 1920 she was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV, and has since become one of the most popular saints.

1Alexander the Great

This entry should come as a surprise to no one. Alexander was born in 356 B.C. as the son of the Macedonian king, Philip II. When he was 13 years old, he was sent to Mieza to be tutored by Aristotle, with classmates such as Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander. When he was 16, he returned to Macedon to rule as regent while his father waged war against Byzantium.

It was during this time that Alexander saw his first military action by leading a small force against the Thracian Maedi, who saw the opportunity to revolt. The Maedi greatly underestimated the prince and were driven from their territory. This would be the first of many victories for Alexander. When he was 17, his father placed his son at the head of a small army, sending him to suppress revolts in southern Thrace, which he did with relative ease. Philip’s army joined his the following year and together they took the city of Elatea.

Next came the allied cities of Athens and Thebes, who met Philip and Alexander in the Battle of Chaeronea where the Macedonians used a faked retreat to win the day. With this victory, all the Greek city-states (except Sparta) surrendered, and Philip formed them into the Hellenic Alliance. Two years later, Philip was assassinated by the captain of his personal guard. The nobles and army both backed Alexander as the rightful king at the age of only 20. He began his reign quite ruthlessly, eliminating potential rivals to his throne. When news of Philip’s death reached the Greek city-states, they quickly rose up in revolt. Alexander took only 3,000 of the Macedonian cavalry to put them down. By age 21, he was preparing for his first campaign.

A whole list could be dedicated to his military genius. He twice was outnumbered by at least 2:1 against the mighty Persian Empire and emerged victorious (Battles of Issus and Gaugamela), although he was in his mid-20s at this point. By the time of his death at age 32, he had conquered most of the ancient world. He is regarded by many today as the greatest military commander of all time.

Read more: